September 22, 2009

This column is intended to offer positive and upbeat suggestions for PEDA’s future.

1. Restructuring of PEDA Board: We need to amend the Pittsfield ordinance that creates the PEDA board, and if necessary, seek modification of the state enabling act. The “independent agency” concept simply did not bring about the needed accountability and transparency. The executive director of PEDA should directly report to the mayor and City Council. PEDA is not a private business and giving it the trappings of a private business has proved fruitless. Board members should be removable at the discretion of the mayor and City Council.

2. A new board and executive director: It is now time for new direction. Ideally, the new board will have a business or general practice lawyer, an environmental lawyer, someone with environmental and civil engineering expertise, more than one person with experience in industrial real estate, someone with experience in finance and venture capital, someone with experience in marketing, and several people with experience in economic development. The executive director must have a background in industrial park development, ideally with industrial parks that were formally brown fields, and ideally would also have an economic development background.

3. Fort Devens Model and Massachusetts Development: One of the most successful industrial developments has been Fort Devens, Massachusetts, which is a former army base and a Superfund site. It is now teeming with quality employers. Massachusetts Development has made Fort Devens the success it is today. If Massachusetts Development is not working for us the way they did for Fort Devens, we need to find out why and rectify the problem, perhaps with the help of the governor and Berkshire delegation.

4. Get the facility ready: Unfortunately, we are selling something yet to be. Those fancy schematics need to become realities. The consent decree was signed a decade ago. According to a recent discussion with board member Gary Grunin, GE is responsible for demolition and removal of old buildings. There must be some contractual obligation the Consent Decree that bound GE, Pittsfield, and the EPA. If there was no express time table for demolition, courts will usually impute a reasonable period. An attorney needs to look into the matter.

If GE and the EPA are constantly fighting and preventing demolition and clean up, it is time for court intervention. We should drastically reducing spending money on executive directors and marketing efforts until we have a usable facility to prevent further dissipation of limited funds. Until we have an inventory of available, fully serviced sites, we might want to hold on to these precious PEDA funds.

5: Account for money spent: According to the mayor’s office, of the $15.3 million set aside for PEDA (not to be confused with the $10 million of the GE Economic Development funds), only $6.5 million is left. This money should be reviewed by an independent auditor to make sure that it is not allocated for expenses that GE was to pickup. A breakdown of the expenditures needs to be more accessible. The loss of the type of line item review usually associated with government expenditures is one of the most disconcerting aspects of the entire project. PEDA is quickly becoming just another industrial park without significant incentives because the money is disappearing.

6: Foster greater transparency and awareness: Someone at PEDA must become a member of Pittsfield Community Television, get a camera, put it on a tripod, put a microphone on the table, and start taping the meetings. They could have PEDA meetings in the City Council chambers for a more professional appearance. There should also be quarterly reports to the Pittsfield City Council both orally and with short write-ups. Annual reports should be available online and at City Hall. There should be annual or biannual town meetings with a presentation and Q&A sessions to foster community awareness and support.

7. Web site and incentive packages: Why come to the William Stanley Business Park? The answer should be simple and clear and concise, with room for some flexibility based upon various criteria, and the information should be massively disseminated. A 25-year-old with a marketing degree should be able to make a sensible presentation to corporate prospects.

Why go to Fort Devens?: “Expedited permitting including a 90-day max on the permit process and one stop-shopping, open spaces, low real estate taxes, its own municipal utility services which offers highly competitive utility rates, and easy access to key labor pools.” Why go to PEDA? I do not know, and that is a serious problem.

Instead, there has been such an emphasis on “flexibility” and “individual needs,” we have no known coherent set of incentives for people to locate here. We need to implement and make known one-stop shopping for permits, a 90-day max on permits, as well as establish the criteria for tax rebates or forgiveness, financing, and other incentive packages. To PEDA’s credit, there have been some improvements in the permitting department, but this has been abysmally advertised making one wonder if the program really is in place.

Our failure to create a coherent set of incentives based upon given criteria has hindered lead development. There is no reason to put us on any initial list of considered sites. Known incentives would give a reason for someone to stop by a booth at a tradeshow or respond to an advertisement. An approach of having known incentives based upon known criteria would allow present citizens and indigenous corporations to be ambassadors and salespeople with something to sell other than scenic beauty and cultural amenities.

Better still, we could offer some type of cash reward system, as some councilors are suggesting, for those companies or individuals that do introduce future tenants.

8. Federal and state cooperation: Finally, we will need to cultivate state and federal cooperation to provide additional tax incentives, funding, and support services.

A writer and attorney, Rinaldo Del Gallo is an Eagle contributor.

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